On walkabout, garlic poked through the mulch. It is spring.
I assembled the portable greenhouse yesterday afternoon. The extra space and light will make a difference, another step toward planting the garden.
A big batch of vegetable soup simmered on the stove most of the day. We ate it for dinner and filled five quart jars. Three of them are to take as my spouse returns to her sister’s to finish packing.
My daily routine is disrupted by spring. That’s good. Like grass greening in the lawn, it is a sign of renewal. Without it, sustainability is elusive.
Opening statements at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee were yesterday. It was as if I wandered into a retirement home occupied by committee members. My conclusion, after listening to most of them? We need younger senators. Thankfully, in Iowa we have three suitable candidates to replace Senator Chuck Grassley during the November election.
War in Ukraine continues. The Ukrainian government refused to surrender even though most of Mariupol has been bombed to ruins. The Russian war machine will rapidly wear down, yet not before more destruction. Somehow Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in the ground this spring.
This week, António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, pointed out what most should know: we are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. The upshot is there is time to act on climate, although not for long.
The detached garage near the alley was damaged when a tall pine tree broke in half during December’s straight-line winds. It wasn’t a tornado, yet might as well have been. The top part of the tree crushed the garage roof and created multiple openings for rain to fall through. Things got wet. It was packing time for my sister-in-law’s move this week.
Boone is a red flag city. There is a bustling main street with an abundance of shops and restaurants. They don’t wear face masks any longer in Boone. I didn’t see a mask other than ours during the entire visit. They vote Republican in Boone. Donald Trump won the 2020 election with 56 percent of the county’s votes. One building on the main street has a larger than life mural of him painted in red and black. Many locals do not view it as the monstrosity it is.
Boone was established in 1865 and the following year the Chicago and North Western built a railway station. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad survives as a tourist attraction, echoing the cultural heritage. Railroad tracks cross the main street in two places. Most locals know to drive around the crossings when a train stops. I learned how to do that during our visit.
The trip meant two days of physical work for me, organizing the garage for the movers, carrying things up from the basement, and packing the book shelves. While I did my work on Sunday, my spouse and her sister packed up the house. I needed the break from a deep winter feeling created by staying home and mostly indoors the last several months. I feel weary, yet refreshed.
We stayed overnight Saturday at one of the four motels in Boone. It was rated 3.2 stars out of five. When we returned home, the garden seedlings looked good. I watered them and they should survive. It’s time to set up the greenhouse and move them outdoors.
The physicality of preparing for a move can be handled. The emotional part is something else. Every item has to be dealt with, including projects started and not finished, photographs and artifacts from a long life, and consequences of decisions made to acquire things for home use. It didn’t take long to fill the dumpster. Add the trauma of valued artifacts damaged by rain and it can become an emotional roller coaster. We can feel upset by failures, although I found there were more positives than negatives to experience. There is hope for a future for everyone involved.
After two days of work, we didn’t finish, yet that’s the time we had. We made good progress and the work can be finished before the movers arrive.
Sometimes we need a work day away from home. It is a retreat from daily patterns that helps renew us. A work day before moving can be tiring in a good way. There is hope for a better future no matter the status of one’s life.
When I make stir fry for dinner there is enough rice to produce leftovers. There are plenty of things to do with leftover rice, yet the most common in our kitchen is making another dish to serve on top of it. This week it was black beans cooked with onion, celery, garlic, tomato and bell pepper. Both meals were satisfying.
During walkabout, the edge of the lake was beginning to melt. The geese in the photo will soon be swimming instead of walking on the ice. Spring officially arrives on Sunday yet for practical purposes, it is already here.
The challenge during this transition is to take my exercise outdoors and work in the garage, yard and garden for part of the day while temperatures are above 50 degrees. While doing so, I hope to preserve the time spent writing and reading in early morning. I have a better process this year, so I am hopeful.
Yesterday, I attempted to change the headlight on the auto and gave up before I broke the clip that holds it in place. I called my mechanic and scheduled it in the shop on Friday. Maybe their expertise will get the job done. For the time being, I don’t drive after dark, and there are fog lights, so it’s not an issue if I do.
This transitional time is the most difficult of the year. There has been so much work delayed because of cold weather. Like with leftover rice, there are plenty of uses for the new found outdoors time. Here’s hoping I can get to work and preserve what I spent all winter developing indoors.
Every time I read the name of a new city in Ukraine, I look it up on a map. When considering the vast expanses of farm fields depicted in atlases, I wonder how Ukrainian farmers will get a crop in this spring. I also wonder about the number of war crimes the west will tolerate before doing something more substantial to stop Russian aggression. The invasion began on Feb. 24, although it is being framed as part of a war that began in 2014.
U.S. interest in Ukraine has to do with so many of its citizens being Caucasian. Also, I got to know a group of Ukrainians who were guest workers at the orchard. Many locals have Ukrainian connections. The easy access social media provides to the war (especially via Twitter) makes it real. I was barely aware of other modern genocides, like in Darfur, Rwanda, Myanmar, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, and others. With social bias about white folks, the Ukraine conflict is getting plenty of media attention in the U.S. People here are engaged.
Following the Russia-Ukraine war takes more than a little bandwidth.
All the same, I passed 70,000 words in new writing this year. The main change over last year is the process I developed (and have written about) is working. There is much to consider in a single human life, yet time to experience it only once. As I use a chronological framing to work through the story, I’m surprised at how much I remember and how vivid those memories are.
This week I wrote about my time at the University of Iowa. A valuable resource has been the online archives of The Daily Iowan going back to 1868. I also have letters I wrote and letters written to me, my main school papers, as well as some artifacts from the period. All of these resources aid memory in production of writing that is personally meaningful.
I participated in the May 11, 1972 anti-war demonstrations to protest the Nixon administration’s mining of Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam. The tendency is to accept well published stories about what happened, suppressing our personal experience. I believe writing the story I did provides an alternative. Here’s a sample:
Newspapers reported about 1,000 demonstrators by the time they got to Dubuque Street. Some 60 patrolmen with night sticks and helmets stood side-by-side across Dubuque Street at the Park Road intersection near City Park. They deployed smoke into the approaching line of students in front of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house.
At this point the newspaper narratives diverged. The Davenport Times-Democrat published a headline, “Patrolmen Block Sit-in Attempt.” However, a contingent of protesters returned south on Dubuque to Brown Street and we walked through neighborhoods, then into dense brush to gain access to Interstate-80. At least one person was treated for cuts from barbwire fencing as we found the way to the Interstate through a thickly wooded area. I was among the protesters clearing a path in the brush for others.
We reached Interstate 80, stopped traffic, and set a fire in the eastbound lane. As we did, a bus with Highway patrolmen arrived on the overhead crossing of Prairie Du Chien Road. They climbed down the embankment and formed a line across the eastbound lane. They charged toward us to break up the crowd and extinguish the fire.
From a draft of an autobiography in progress.
If we are not the main character in our own life’s story, then when are we? The new process helps me get a narrative down on paper. Once it is written, editing begins. By the time it is finished, the writing should be quite readable, I hope.
I’m having second thoughts about putting everything in this autobiography. There is too much previous writing I want to include. I see a second volume that is a collection of previous writing, with a section for each type of writing, including letters, poetry, newspaper articles, blog posts, journals and stories. Gleaning the best of this means reading it all. I’d better stick to my knitting and finish the chronological narrative first.
There is also a question of what to do with the images I have on hand. Part of me wants to close the interpretation of images by describing what is in them rather than publishing the image itself. That seems a useful technique. There are so many images there is likely another book with images with extended captions in them. I posted such a work on my Flickr account and it became one of the most widely read posts I made. I took it down when I exited the Yahoo platforms. There is a third book in images and the decision is whether to create it as a bound book, or to make a series of photo albums. It’s an open question.
Anti-war sentiment ran strong among my cohort of university students. Many felt like I did: we opposed the war yet as new students were hesitant to publicly protest. Spring 1971 was my first year experiencing student anti-war demonstrations at the University of Iowa. To hear then-university president Willard Boyd tell it, anti-war demonstrations were non-existent that year, receiving no mention in his autobiography, A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier. Boyd had a specific narrative to tell about the demonstrations. The period from Kent State on May 4, 1970, until May 1972 encompassed most of the anti-war activity at the University of Iowa campus, he wrote.
During the 1971 demonstrations, he held a meeting in the student lounge at the Quadrangle dormitory where I lived. I attended and Boyd seemed engaged and reasonably open minded about balancing needs for free expression by students, law and order in the community, and controlling how events evolved through policy. D.C. Spriestersbach, dean of the Graduate College in the 1970s, presented a timeline of campus turbulence from 1965 through 1972 in his memoir The Way it Was: The University of Iowa 1964-1989. Because of his position, his narrative, like Boyd’s, is tilted toward the administration’s view of the protests. It is familiar yet it was not the whole story.
While in high school I participated in an anti-war demonstration outside the Davenport Armory after Kent State, and in a student strike of classes. I kept to myself in Iowa City. I was inexperienced at living away from home.
Feb. 10, 1971 was a day of student meetings about the Vietnam War at the Iowa Memorial Union. There was an all-day teach-in attended by more than 1,500 people. A variety of speakers made presentations about war itself, and the history of Vietnam War specifically. About 500 people met that evening to draft demands of the State Board of Regents and develop a plan of action to protest expansion of the war. The next day, Student Senate President Robert Beller read the demands at a meeting of the board of regents, saying in part, “We will act to stop university involvement in the war effort and university contribution to the domestic oppression related to the war-unemployment. Therefore, we demand that (1) The University of Iowa end complicity with the war – abolish ROTC, war research and war recruiters. (2) The university end all layoffs of campus workers.”
The next day there was a demonstration at the Iowa Memorial Union attracting about 50 people. The group walked from the union toward the Rec Building where a group of ROTC students was conducting drills. Finding the door locked upon their arrival, they next went to the University Field House where they ransacked the ROTC offices. They left the Field House and milled about near the Rienow, Quadrangle and Hillcrest dormitories, then crossed the Iowa River to the Student Union to see if they could gather more protesters. They then went to Campus Security and to the U.S. Post Office where the Johnson County Draft Office was located. The crowd had dwindled by that point.
A large-scale demonstration and celebration had been planned for May 1, yet there was no place on campus large enough to accommodate the number of people expected to attend. President Boyd granted permission for the event to be held at the Macbride field campus near Lake Macbride. The Daily Iowan estimated 12,000 people attended the non-stop day of speeches and musical acts. I attended and it was more rock festival than anti-war demonstration. Alternative activities and a 10 p.m. demonstration on campus were planned for those who couldn’t make it to the field campus for the main event.
While anti-war demonstrations began in April, violence began on Wednesday, May 5. Here is the description from Spriestersbach’s book:
Anti-War Violence Strikes City – Scattered Arrests Follow Three Hours of Trashing. A handful of people were arrested Wednesday night (May 5) after a crowd of anti-war demonstrators estimated at an average of between 400-500 people ranged through Iowa City for four hours breaking windows and blocking traffic. About 100 law enforcement officers, including Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputies, the Iowa Highway Patrol and the Iowa City and Coralville Police Departments, dressed in riot gear, charged down Clinton Street and into the Pentacrest to break up the crowd shortly before midnight.
On Friday, May 7, someone set off an explosion near the Iowa City Civic Center with two or three sticks of dynamite causing thousands of dollars of damage. Monday, May 10, for the first time during the demonstrations, law enforcement used teargas to disperse an anti-war demonstration at the University of Iowa Pentacrest. Also, that day, about 40 people conducted a sit-in at President Boyd’s office. Law enforcement made the decision to clear the streets of all people by the end of the day, according to the Daily Iowan. Each of these events was violent, so I stayed in my dorm room when not in class or at the dining hall.
On Tuesday, May 11, there were more demonstrations. Law enforcement called in members of the Scott County Sheriff’s posse to assist. I stayed away from demonstrations that included violence and vandalism, although that evening changed my mind.
After nightfall I walked from the Quadrangle downhill to Grand Avenue to see what was going on. A student had built a crude catapult to take to the roof of Hillcrest dormitory and send rocks flying down on law enforcement officers as they came up the hill toward the dorms. As a former engineering student, I cast a skeptical eye on the contraption. Descending the hill, I found officers had closed the intersection with Riverside Drive and were assembling there. There was construction halfway up the hill to the Field House on Grand Avenue and some students moved concrete culverts around and started them rolling down the hill toward law enforcement. As the first culvert reached the bottom of Grand Avenue, and officers began advancing up the hill, I turned around and headed back to my room to wait out whatever might happen.
According to The Daily Iowan, one of their reporters was at the police station when news of the disturbances near the dormitories arrived. They overheard Highway Patrol Captain Lyle Dickinson order officers to “take the gas gun. Lob some gas in and chase the others up the hill.” And so, they did.
I heard the commotion outside yet stayed in my room. That is, until I began to smell tear gas. I opened the window facing the courtyard and saw a tear gas cannister ignited and bouncing towards the center of the courtyard. I headed outside to escape the fumes. After it was over that night, we blamed the rough handling students got on the Scott County Sheriff’s Posse, although it was the Highway Patrol who were in command of the operation.
A junior student named David Yepsen, who later became a journalist, was quoted in the newspaper, “(the teargassing of the dormitories was) an over-reaction on the part of the police. It was totally out of line. They made a grave mistake in doing that.” None of us liked it and people who had been neutral toward the anti-war demonstrations were now provoked and activated after our dormitories were tear gassed. Overnight, seven persons were arrested, and 16 patrolmen and 3 students injured. Governor Robert Ray dispatched 200 Highway Patrol officers to assist local law enforcement.
With the presence of uniformed Highway Patrol officers on campus, Wednesday, May 12, passed without disturbances. Peace continued through Saturday. On May 14, President Boyd suspended outdoor rallies and Monday, May 17, classes ended for the academic year. The entire series of anti-war demonstrations in April and May made us feel powerless to influence our government and the interminable war in Southeast Asia.
I was much more active the following year when demonstrators briefly shut down the eastbound lane of Interstate 80.
This is an excerpt from a draft of an autobiography in progress.
Rain is forecast all day, making this a Saturday to stay indoors. If the storms clear, I’ll go on walkabout. Otherwise, I’m making a second pot of coffee.
There is plenty to do in our community. The United Methodist Church is hosting a “Pharmacy Brown Bag” at which we can take and turn in unused and expired medications for proper disposal. We gathered a bag of pills to be delivered. Friends of the Public Library is hosting their annual used book sale, although I have plenty to read and will skip the sale this year. I lean toward reducing the number of books in the house. There are political events, including a meet and greet in Marengo for our recently declared state representative candidate. The one way hour drive seems too far for a single purpose trip.
Soup is already made for supper so a rainy Saturday is an opportunity to get things done indoors. I will focus on creative endeavor in the form of writing, reading and gardening. Without a source of income like our pensions, I don’t know how creative people make ends meet.
I know several people who consider themselves to be “content creators” on social media platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Tik Tok. They work full time creating content and try to make a living from it. I don’t know how they do without a supplemental source of income. There is money to be made as a content creator yet not enough to pay typical living expenses of $30,000 or more per year.
One individual said in a Facebook post being a content creator takes time away from their previous income pursuits of playing music and writing books. They also mention how many hours are involved and how tired they constantly are. There are no pensions in being a content creator so I’m not sure how it is sustainable as one ages. There may be a niche market for a septuagenarian content creator, yet the role assumes another source of income as a platform.
One of the full-time Twitch streamers I follow has almost daily streams where they are “just chatting.” Whenever I visit, the screen is filled with a well-groomed image of them at a microphone interacting with viewers who make chat posts. I don’t know how the streamer is so positive for five or six hours at a time but he is. One of the tags in the stream is “mental health.”
The attraction for a viewer is that as we became isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, we craved community. I’ve been following streamers for more than a year and the same users gravitate toward the same kinds of streams. I often find myself in streams tagged English, Social Eating, LGBTQIA+, Makers and Crafting, Safe Space and Mental Health. I particularly like streams hosted outside North America tagged English. The interaction between streamer and viewers is a way to establish a feeling of safety and community on the internet. The best streamers address every chat post in a positive manner.
Social media has become an important means of self expression if one accepts it for that. I don’t know about making a living from YouTube or the others. I’m not sure my way of making a living by working jobs that paid into Social Security and Medicare for 54 years was an improvement over the vagaries of being a content creator. The early decisions I made at university paved a path where I could create written works. It freed me from the idea that I needed to earn money with my writing. That has made a difference.
In his 1979 book The Third World War: August 1985, General Sir John Hackett identified that the public generally disregards the possibility of war. He wrote about the role media embedded in combat units would play in his hypothetical war, bringing home different aspects of the conflict from what had been experienced in previous wars. What he didn’t predict was the role of mobile devices sending video and photographs from war zones like those we see on social media posts from Ukraine.
At the time, when I was returning to Iowa after leaving military service in West Germany, Hackett’s book was a page from the lives of everyone like me who participated in making battle plans to defend Western Europe as Soviet army units attempted to penetrate the Fulda Gap. Hackett was right about new methods of reporting from war zones. The experience is more immediate after the rise of Twitter and social media. It changes everything.
It is difficult to winnow kernels of fact from streams of social media. While something real goes into images posted there, their meaning and veracity, is an open question. It is not helpful that certain photos, like those of children in a bomb shelter, get the most views. I mean photos like this.
We should take video and photographs coming out of Ukraine with a grain of salt. We should resist confirmation bias and let the events tell their own story. That may not be possible, yet it is important to how we determine what political action our country should be taking.
For example, is this photograph posted on Twitter real or fake? I separated it from the accompanying text which appears below.
The post appears to be real. While the reliability of this reporter is known, there has been an attempt to create a fake profile of him as part of a larger disinformation campaign by the aggressors.
Most reasonable people know social media posts are hardly unbiased information. We should remind ourselves as they become a major source of information about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
An inch or two of snow fell overnight indicating winter is not finished.
There is not enough trash and recycling to roll the carts through freshly fallen snow to the street for pickup. I’ll wait until daylight to blow snow from the driveway, without cart tracks and my footprints. With our intent to stay home, I could let it go and natural warmth would clear the driveway within 24-48 hours. I’m ready for some outdoors activity.
Despite snowfall, one senses a pivot toward spring.
The ten-day forecast is for ambient temperatures to begin climbing above freezing tomorrow. After that, highs are forecast in the upper thirties to mid forties going forward. I’m reminded some of our worst Iowa blizzards have happened during March. It may not be the end of winter, yet one can’t help but think of spring. The ground remains frozen.
We hope for spring, even if another thing that fell overnight was Russian missiles on Kyiv, Ukraine.
I try to shut out commentary and focus on news of the Russian invasion. There is plenty of news available, although one needs a filter to separate wheat kernels from the chaff. A cook can’t make bread from opinions. It is ironic that U.S. companies maintain large grain export operations in Ukraine and Russia when Iowa grows 50 percent of its corn to make ethanol. Ethanol should be eliminated due to its impact on the environment. That is commentary readers may not welcome.
While stationed in Germany as an infantry officer, I prepared to fight a European land war against the former Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap. A soldier should know that if Russia planned to lay siege to Kyiv, it would begin this morning at dawn. There is no satisfaction from seeing my prediction come true as it did. Spring is not the best time for tanks to navigate through the countryside. One presumes Russia will make quick work of the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, while the ground remains frozen, before spring thaw and planting time arrives.
I have reading and writing to do and welcome a couple more days of cold weather. I’d like nothing better than to browse a bookstore for a while to see what is available. Instead, due to a lingering coronavirus, I’ll stay in and follow the news of the Russian invasion while keeping my eyes on imminent spring. The pivot has already begun.
These cold, windy days have been invaluable for writing. There have been some warm spells, yet the ground remains frozen, and desire to stay indoors is strong. Highs are forecast in the teens the next couple of days.
I found an old jar of applesauce, tasted it to make sure it was good, and baked an applesauce cake. This dense, slightly sweet cake could be split into two loaf pans and made as bread. Who wants to wash the extra dish? Topped with homemade apple butter, it is a mid-winter treat made from pantry staples.
A lot is going on in the political world. Reports say there is a high level of engagement among Democratic activists. Activists are one thing. Voters are another. More work is required on the latter. The field of candidates won’t be known until the filing period closes on March 18 for federal and state offices, and March 25 for county ones.
In the state senate district a bicycle ride away, Molly Donahue and Austin Frerick are in a primary for the Democratic nomination to replace state senator Liz Mathis, who is running for the U.S. Congress. I like Molly a lot and have attended her public outreach sessions held in nearby Ely. Frerick may be better known state-wide, and is expected to be better financed. It’s a race to watch. In the meanwhile, I am expecting a formal announcement from incumbent Kevin Kinney in my senate district in early March.
At the beginning, I didn’t think there would be much about which to write regarding my four-year stay at the University of Iowa. It turns out I was wrong.
The first third of my current project was written mostly from photographs and memory with a few history references scattered in. Now that I’ve entered the part where there is more written record, the story got complicated.
The period from Kent State on May 4, 1970 until May 1972 encompassed most of the anti-war activity at the University of Iowa campus. Both former university president Willard Boyd, and former dean of the Graduate College D.C. Spriesterbach wrote of the events in their memoirs. In addition, the Daily Iowan newspaper stores archived editions online at no cost for users. I have been able to re-read newspapers from the spring of 1971, my freshman year. Combine that with my personal documents and memory, there is a lot to go through and distill.
Music was important during university. I learned to play guitar and participated in the local music culture which included countless appearances by bands touring the country. There were big venue offerings like The Grateful Dead, Grand Funk Railroad, The Allman Brothers Band, and Leon Russell. There were smaller venue offerings with Muddy Waters, Luther Allison, and Ravi Shankar. I can’t recall all the long-time blues artists who performed in downtown Iowa City. My mates from high school and I started a rhythm and blues band about 1973. My record collection grew considerably at university. All that experience needs some clarity and compression, yet not too much.
When I moved to Forest View Trailer Court, I started cooking and have some memories of early experiments to share. I recall using the first loaf of bread I baked as a door stop because it was so dense as to be inedible. Food will be a major theme later in the story. I’ll be planting some seeds here.
I was able to graduate in four years, debt free. Things didn’t cost as much in the early 1970s. In light of the $120,000 expense our child incurred at a private college, there is a point to make about student loans and the cost of higher education.
The choice a writer has to make is whether to do all the work in the present, or to write one version today and add to it later. I’m likely to write my autobiography just once, so this is it. That makes the process longer than cranking out a 100,000-word work of fiction in a year. Progress was made this week. For that, I am thankful. Plenty of additional work lies ahead.
The Republican elected officials who represent me have forgotten the most important thing about education: its purpose is to educate children.
On Nov. 9, 2021, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks introduced the CHOICE Act (HR 5959) which is a bill that takes federal money from public schools for private schools in states like Iowa. This bill is going nowhere if Democrats hold the majority.
I asked a group of parents and educators whether they had heard of the CHOICE Act. They had not. It is a distraction from the main goal of educating our children. What is the congresswoman up to?
Miller-Meeks seeks to acquire some more Iowa Republican extremism in education to garner a few votes in the midterm election.
Iowa Republicans support discrimination against a class of young children (HF 2416), seek to lock up teachers who don’t do what they want (SF 2198), and play three-card monte with childcare by doing nothing except raising the number of children each provider can serve (SF 2268).
No public dollars should go to private schools. We should focus on educating children, not playing political games with their future.
~ Published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Feb. 24, 2022